Seeking Sunshine

Social Media in the Coronavirus Lockdown

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, it can be hugely anxiety-provoking, because it feeds that part of our brains that can’t help but compare us viciously to those around us. For example: “Oh my goodness, look how lovely she looks on that evening out with her friends. I don’t want to go out, but I don’t want to be the one with nothing to share! I bet everyone thinks I’m such a sad creature that never has any fun.” Et cetera, for time immemorial.

While this may have become a moot point in the time of lockdown, social media certainly has not lost its ability to be a time-sucking black hole. It can still leach time from my day and consume me in worlds that are not my own, for worse rather than better. It is not the best friend of a procrastinator! I cannot be the only one who has tapped on certain apps ‘for a quick look’ and emerged an hour later, horrified by all the wasted time.

But social media is not all doom and gloom. Without it, I would not have found #edutwitter, an absolute goldmine of discussion, debate, resources and support. And without other channels, I would find it impossible to maintain contact with family and friends hundreds of miles away. When used for good, social media can be warm and friendly.

However, it is precisely this friendliness that has fed the secondary issue of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, director-general of the WHO, 15th February 2020

All it takes is for one friend to share the latest ‘news,’ and suddenly a whole group has fallen foul of nothing more than speculation or fear-mongering. About a month ago, my feeds were crammed with this. Between the regular stream of eerily-targeted adverts was post after post about how to avoid coronavirus, what to do if you come into contact with it to ‘guaranteed immediately kill the virus’ and statistical projections which seemed as unlikely as they were terrifying.

I am glad to say this is no longer the case for me, though I have friends now avoiding some social media channels entirely, as they remain saturated in conspiracy theories even amid a lockdown.

The title of this entry is borrowed from #seekingsunshine, a product of Blurt Foundation in these uncertain times. “Seeking sunshine” or looking for small moments of happiness, is not a new experience for me. In my last post, which you can read here, I wrote about focusing on the little things as a way to get through a tough time. #seekingsunshine epitomises the seismic shift I have noticed in social media since the UK lockdown began. People are sharing their little moments of joy, and others, sometimes total strangers, are joining clusters of conversation and connecting in bubbles of safety where coronavirus isn’t even a concern.

Elsewhere than Twitter, I have seen a warmth and comfort in social media that I have never noticed so strongly before. Birthdays are still happening, but the comments to accompany them seem more real now. It is not a quick ‘Happy Birthday!’ and done; stories are shared, kindnesses are exchanged both ways. People are posting snapshots of their real lives in lockdown, not the highly polished lives that normally appear. And the conversation beneath each one is so genuine – connections are happening through screens to remind us of the connections we tended before we were confined to our homes.

It would seem that social media has found its original purpose in its return to all things social. For some, this is a lifeline. For others, it’s a bit of distraction in the long days that all seem to blend into one.

For me? It’s just helping me find and share a little bit of sunshine. The love/hate balance is certainly tipping more one way than the other, let’s put it that way.

September

All good stories have a solid starting point, don’t they? My NQT story began in September 2019, and thanks to my meticulous journaling habit, I can piece together a fairly accurate account of my first month as a teacher. Maybe it will be useful to someone just embarking on their NQT journey (provided, of course, that normal life resumes in September 2020!) On the other hand, maybe it will raise a smile from those of you with experience, nostalgic for your days as an NQT… Yeah, I don’t think that’s too likely!

Today was an anxious day. I spent all day hiding it. (Badly.)

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019

It’s no secret that I am one of life’s worriers. The second and final inset day in that first week was overwhelming to say the least. I was drowning in information, spinning too many plates, and I wondered what on Earth I had gotten myself in for. And this was after I had spent my final placement in the same school, too!

But as I discovered later, almost everyone falls somewhere on the anxiety spectrum, the night before school starts, no matter how long you’ve been in the job.

In September, I made sure to put a lot of focus on small moments of happiness, like sticking photos from my graduation on the wall. The pride and strength in those smiles carried me through some really difficult days. Little acts of kindness meant a lot that month too – a text from my NQT mentor the night before my first day, that was so lovely it raised tears to my eyes, and a cup of tea made for me by my headteacher while we went through some safeguarding procedures (even if it was a little too milky – that’s one thing you should know about me, I drink my tea STRONG.)

I hope Sundays always feel like this… Is this what it is to be in love with your job?

Sunday, 8th September 2019

Don’t get me wrong, my first week was a challenge. I couldn’t find the classroom presence I needed, I didn’t stand as firmly on behaviour as I should have done. I think I cried to my parents (I still lived with them at that point) completely ashamed that I had the loudest class in the school and convinced that my colleagues must have been judging me terribly for not managing them better.

Despite all of that going wrong, most of which carried on for most of the month, I loved my job. This innocent optimism also carried on throughout September. Finally having a classroom of my own was eye-opening and difficult, but it was also a gift. I had worked for two years of A-levels and three years of university to achieve this. I had made it, and I was on cloud nine every Sunday night, ready to start again.

[My NQT mentor] reassured me hugely… reminding me that I’ve only been a teacher for eleven working days so I shouldn’t beat myself up for things not being perfect… I won’t make any promises though, because “don’t beat yourself up” has been a common theme for about eight years, but I will try to keep it in mind.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019

In the third week of term, I finally gave up the brave face. If you’re a soon-to-be NQT reading this, don’t be a hero when it gets hard. Don’t stick it out and carry on. Talking has the power to put things way back into perspective.

I have always been a perfectionist, I think. I thought I could keep that up, despite what people were telling me, that it wasn’t physically possible to maintain both a perfectionist streak and your sanity as a teacher. It would seem though that many teachers fall foul of this personality trait. By virtue of the profession, we want to make a change for ‘our’ children and we want to get it right for them. I wanted it all to fall into place and go right straight away – my own impossibly high standards were my downfall. I would like to think that by now (April) I have made peace with things not being perfect. But I am still reminded regularly not to be quite so hard on myself, so it is very much still a work in progress!

I feel like death.

Thursday, 19th September 2019

Those were the only words I wrote on that day. NQT flu is real, people! And it likes to kick you when you’re down, and come back for infinite more rounds. There’s not an awful lot to be done to avoid it – maybe it is easier in an older, less tactile class than Year 1, I don’t know. But believe me, you will learn very quickly, which of your colleagues has the reputation for being a walking pharmacy!

By the end of the month, I had been poorly for around eight days of September’s thirty. On paper, that doesn’t seem long. In my memory, the germy period was much longer than that – I guess time has no real meaning when you’ve got no voice but you’re still trying to be heard over a class of Year 1s.

But I retained that initial optimism for the whole month, give or take a little. September was a rollercoaster. Though perhaps, more accurately, it was a rollercoater within a rollercoaster – I can’t say I’ve managed to exit yet!

Future NQTs, it will be hard. Find your support in school. Be proud of your successes, be excited, because this is a precious time. Be as excited as I was, at the end of my first day. And yes, I really did write that sentence three times, with increasing degrees of emphasis.

I am a teacher. I. Am. A. Teacher. I AM A TEACHER.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019